2016 Re-read for Sci Fi/Fantasy book club.
Seriously, does anyone else want to kick the Nobel Prize committee for not giving Pratchett the award? I wish this novel had been around when I was a kid.
Philip Pullman is known, perhaps infamously, for His Dark Materials trilogy, which has been attacked because of Pullman's atheist beliefs as well as the endorsement of atheism that book represents. Pullman isn't the only writer to have been attacked due to his view on religion, and I doubt that he will be the last one. Of course, he will undoubtedly be attacked this year because of his new book about Jesus and his buddy Christ.
I find it strange that there was barely a peep about the books until the movie came out.
The problem, as I see it, with such "fame" as Pullman receives is that people get hot and bothered either condemning the work or, justly, defending the work. So hot and bothered that books like Nation get overlooked. In many ways, this is good, for no one is trying to ban the book. In other ways, it is bad, for the book doesn't get the fame it deserves.
Terry Pratchett is a humanist writer of fantasy fiction. He wouldn't call his work literature, but many of his later novels either is literature or rests on literature's mutable border. I've been a huge fan of Pratchett since Wyrd Sisters made me laugh during a very tough time in my life (Thanks Mom, for giving the book to me).
Nation is the best thing that Pratchett has ever written.
Nation is Literature.
I'm not sure if Nation was inspired by the Tsunami in Asia and/or Pratchett receiving his medical news. In truth, I don't really care. I do know, for Pratchett himself has said it, that Nation demanded to be told, and he stopped other projects to write it.
Supposedly a children's book, Nation tells the story of Mau who loses his whole Nation, his whole tribe, when a tsunami hits his island home. Eventually, Mau discovers Daphne, a "ghost" girl who was washed up by the same wave. What then follows is part Robinson Crusoe, told from Friday's point of view; part Swiss Family Robinson; part Island of the Blue Dolphins, and part religious and philosophical debate.
Pratchett's novels work because each of his characters is like the reader or like someone the reader knows. His characters are human and contain one or more aspects of everyone. Even Pratchett's most heroic or inhuman characters such as Carrot, Rincewind, or Death, have human traits that effect how they act (remember, Death really likes cats). Here, in this book, Pratchett presents multiple answers to the questions, "Why do bad things happen to good people if there is a just god?" and "How do you feel afterwards?"
Both Mau and Daphne have tragically lost family. Both of their reactions are human, yet different from each other. Both question the idea of god (or in the case of Mau, gods) and faith. Both arrive at different answers. More importantly, Pratchett doesn't preach, he doesn't persuade. He just wants the reader to think, the conclusion is left up to the reader. This makes the book totally honest, for there is no clear cut answer to the first question.
Besides engaging the idea of the god debate, Pratchett touches on another part of creation - where do stories come from? Are stories more than just religion? Is religion more than story? This comes as no surprise to the reader who has read the last two Science of Discworld books.
Despite the tragic and bittersweet events of the story, Pratchett's trademark humor, including footnotes, is present in full force. Like his characters, Pratchett's humor works because it contains an element of human truth. As the following exchange shows:
"Don't look back!"
"Because I just did! Run faster!"
The tale of Mau and Daphne is an adventure tale of two teens surviving the aftermath of a natural disaster. They most rebuild. They must outwit cold blooded killers and hungry cannibal as well as the odd Grandfather Bird and tree climbing octopus. It is a thrillingly story that closely, honestly, and fairly examines faith, science and all in between.
When Nation came out, I was a bit disappointed that it wasn't a Discworld novel.
Then I read it.
It's the best thing that Pratchett has ever written.
The one thing about Terry Pratchett, as Lawrence Watt-Evans pointed out, is that the only real difference between his adult books and his children books are the age of his protagonists. There is no reason why an adult shouldn't treat this as a book.
It's a book everyone should read.
I suppose if Pratchett had the reputation or high profile of Philip Pullman or J. K. Rowling, then there would be a huge cry of how this book should be snatched from the hands of impressable children before they learn how to think for themselves. Maybe there is already such an outcry, but I haven't heard anything.
Nation reminds me a bit of Island of the Blue Dolphins, with much more thrown in. Pratchett addresses the big questions of whether or not there is a god, and if there is a god, why do bad things happen? Bad things happen in this book, right from the start. Pratchett deserves credit for not sugarcoating what happens, but for also dealing with the deathes in a way that does not alienate or upset readers (okay, upset them too much).
What Pratchett presents for the reader is a book about what extactly faith and life are. When one reads Pullman, it is quite easy to figure out where Pullman stands in regards to religion. It is not easy to figure out where Pratchett stands. One character has lost his faith, but may or may not be talking to the gods. Other characters have faith. Neither character is seen as stupid or evil because of a belief or lack of belief. In many ways, Nation is a more mature novel about faith than Pratchett's earlier tolerance novelSmall Gods.
This a powerful book, and I hope it continues to fly under the radar of those people who think children shouldn't read books that make you think.
Everyone should read this book.